Staying in touch with the fam' while on the road

This morning, after returning from the second of two trips away from my family in the last 3 weeks, my daughter Isabel said, "Mom, it's odd to have you around. It's great, but it feels odd." Eh, can you grab that knife by the handle and twist it a little more?

Traveling when you have kids is a double edged sword. I'm not one of those moms who pines away the whole time I am gone. I enjoy my time by myself, and I love me some boutique hotel action. However, I feel intense, recovering-Catholic-scale guilt about burdening my husband with the 3 kids and the dog while I am gone. And I feel badly that I miss the crucial every day mundane details that, let's face it, make up a child's life. What they had for lunch. Whether they had PE today. How their outfit worked out for them on the playground.

I've found that video conferencing from the road has really helped, although it's kind of a tight squeeze to get everyone into the conversation. Best to take turns....

Staying in touch with the family while traveling, via Google video chat

There are no easy solutions to simultaneously doing right by your family, your job, and yourself. The best you can do is just enjoy your kids as much as you can, tell them you love them as often as you can, and tell your job to kindly take a back seat once and a while.

Did I mention I will be traveling again in 2 weeks? Better get a bigger monitor for the home computer....

A few days in Dublin: some recommendations

I visited Ireland for the first time in Late August and instantly formed a crush on the city of Dublin. Here are some of the places I discovered that you might want to check out if you ever find yourself in the capitol of the Emerald Isle.
  • I stayed at Grafton Guest House in Central Dublin. It's a nice little bed and breakfast. Reasonable rates. No services to speak of, so if you must have champagne on ice through room service, look elsewhere. Breakkie is included at a nearby bistro, and the location cannot be beat.
  • Had a dinner all by myself (I love places you can eat alone and not feel like a tool) at Cornucopia, heralded as one of Dublin's best vegetarian eateries. Delish veggie dishes with local and seasonal ingredients. Texas-sized portions, for better or for worse.
  • Ice cream afterwards right across the street from Cornucopia at Murphy's. A small combo cup of Honey Caramel and Chocolate hit the spot.
  • Amazing vintage clothing at Wild Child Originals, which incidentally has one of the best graphic identities I've seen for a boutique. So much so that I photographed their paper shopping bag, which is a first for me.
  • Avoca, my new favorite store. As cute and inventive as Oilily, but not as precious or expensive. Wonderful children's and babies' clothes and toys; discovered a new fave label, No Added Sugar. Can't share details of what I bought, lest I ruin surprises for certain nosey Stewart children. Apparently they have stores all over Ireland and also one store in the US in Annapolis. Random. Sorry Marylanders....
  • Another lovely story for children and babies: Pearl. Great selection of clothes, bags, and again, the No Added Sugar line.
  • Guinness Storehouse tour at the factory; surprisingly interesting and well designed, if a bit too self-congratulatory. Samples included!
  • Book of Kells at Trinity College: I really enjoyed the audio guided tour, although they actually sell you a throw away plastic player which I found a bit ridiculous in this age of green living. I ended up making someone's day by handing it to them as they waited in line to buy one for 5 euros. Also, this tour is not for small kids; it would bore them to tears.
  • Dublin Office of Tourism Podcast Walking Tours: these were a revelation to me, since I was traveling alone in a new city and have no sense of direction. Much easier to have someone whispering in my ear to "turn at the large stone cathedral" than pulling out my map for the 50th time.
  • Day trip to Howth: this small, lovely port village is only a 20 minute train ride outside the city. It's the home of some amazing seafood and one of the loveliest playgrounds I've seen in a while. Would be a great place to take little ones.
Also, some things I noticed when I was in Ireland:
  • People are into wearing really big headphones on the streets. Perhaps they, too, have realized that as far as comfort is concerned, ear buds are a scourge on humanity.
  • No decaf in the whole damned city. Since I was managing jetlag, I had to skip coffee altogether.
  • Taxi drivers are honest, friendly, and a great source of info about the city.
  • I hear there is great food, but I didn't have great luck in restaurants. I imagine getting better recommendations from locals is the key.
  • Not surprisingly, you can hear great music everywhere. The street musicians are generally speaking really talented. Grafton Street shopping district is a sure bet for finding talented buskers.
That's all for this chapter in my travels, but I'll close by saying, "Slan agus beannact leat." That's Gaelic for, "Goodbye and blessings with you!"

Fondazione Prada sneak preview

While in Milan for Design Week this part April, I was treated to a private tour by Germano Celant, Director of the Fondazione Prada, of the Foundation's new headquarters, still under construction just outside the heart of Milan.

The space, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is extraordinary, as it transforms an early 20th century industrial complex into a state-of-the-art exhibition and performance space. The collections the space will house, are equally impressive: Prada's archives, visual art of all sorts, and space for performances and festivals. Looking forward to the opening....

Thomas Eyck's Flax Project @ Milan Design week, April 2009

Thomas Eyck’s latest offerings were featured at the Dutchness show during Milan Design Week 2009. Each year, a material is chosen; some humble, basic material that has served people in utilitarian ways throughout the ages. That material is observed, researched, explored, and reinvented by a chosen designer in a modern context. Past subjects include wool and pewter. Last year, Christien Meindertsma’s knitted poufs were coveted by many and picked up by Design Within Reach.

This year, the lucky makeover was given to flax. Meindertsma explored many uses of flax, from candle making to rope to fabric sacks, and created re-imagined versions of these quotidian objects that transcend the pure function to new levels of beauty. My personal favorite? The most evocative extension cord I’ve ever seen.

Here’s an interview with the highly personable Eyck, whose enthusiasm for his designers and their work made the installation even more enjoyable to experience.

And here are photographs of the work featured in this year's show...

Many thanks to Paul Thompson and Cara McCarty of The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum for providing me the opportunity to meet Mr. Eyck and many other luminaries during Milan's Design week. I'll be featuring additional interviews by Tom Dixon, Kenya Hara, and others in the weeks to come....

Durability and anti-trend: the new sustainability

One of the big themes at this year's Milan Furniture Fair seemed to be sustainability. No surprise there; "greenwashing" is all the rage, with seemingly everything being promoted as "made from recycled", and firms and products broadcasting their carbon footprint to the world.

But a more intriguing angle is the sustainability of timeless, durable, and anti-trend goods which last, in terms of use and relevance, for decades. What's more green? Buying 5 different sofas made of "environmentally responsible" materials over the course of a decade, or a single piece that may not have a LEED pedigree, but that the owner uses throughout a lifetime? We'll never make a real impact on our consumptive ways until we get past our fickle, trend-obsessed, everything-is-ultimately-disposible attitudes and behaviors.

How did this manifest itself in Milan? Tom Dixon's self-described "plain" designs, Thomas Eyck's collections based on humble, traditional materials such as flax, and Royal Tichelaar Makkum's wonderful, homey cups and dishes that seem optimized for comfort food. Video interviews with each of these designers to be posted soon...